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In the News - Friday, August 17, 2012




North Fork fire stopped at two acres


By John Elliott

and Holly Gallo


  There were some scary moments on Tuesday, Aug. 14, after dozens of Three Rivers residents spotted smoke from a fire burning in brush and grassland between 41960 and 42000 North Fork Dr. The flashpoint of the “Fork Fire” was immediately down river from Slicky, a popular swimming hole behind the Chevron station.

  As several locals dug a trench and used shovels in an attempt to stop the blaze, others called Tulare County Fire Department dispatch; multiple units were called to the scene and began arriving shortly after 6 p.m. 

  Gabriella Nunez, a resident of North Fork whose home is near where the fire originated, first noticed smoke when she went outside to collect clothes that were drying on the line.

  “All of a sudden, I saw the flames going across to the house over there,” Nunez said, pointing to the nearest neighbors to the south of her home. She informed her father, Gabe Nunez, who immediately grabbed a shovel to battle the approaching flames.

  Twenty-foot flame lengths sprang skyward as the blaze made its way into some tinder dry trees and riverside brush. Winds gusting from a down-canyon storm cell fanned the flames and, for a few tense minutes, it appeared that the fire might even jump to the south side of the river. 

  Stan Johnson was another of the nearby North Fork residents fortunate to escape with his home unscathed.

  “With the wind blowing the way it was, that’s where the immediate danger was,” Johnson said, mirroring Nunez’s gesture toward their neighbors downstream. “It kept flaming up here every time it would hit a new dry tree.”

  Cal Fire Battalion Chief Derek Staberg reported that the wildfire was contained within 20 minutes of the first arriving engines. Crews were able to keep the fire from jumping across the river and limit the damage to vegetation; no structures were lost.

  By 7:30 p.m., fire crews were mopping up the two-acre charred area and looking for potential hotspots. A bulldozer and the Mountain Home hand crew worked the charred remains for the next several hours just in case some hot embers might rekindle active fire.

  In addition to the locals equipped with shovels and hoses, the final head count of fire personnel were more than 50 Cal Fire, Tulare County Fire Department, and National Park Service firefighters on the scene. Four wildland engines and a bulldozer were dispatched to the fire, as well as an air tanker. The air tanker was cancelled when it became evident that the fire was under control.

  Chief Staberg said the NPS helicopter dispatched from Ash Mountain scooped multiple buckets of water from the adjacent river and was a big factor in keeping the blaze in check.   While the formal investigation of the cause of the fire is ongoing, witnesses at the scene speculated that the wind gusts might have caused a spark from a nearby power line to ignite the blaze.

  In August 1988, a downed power line across the river from this current locale, caused a fire that burned down to Lake Kaweah within 10 minutes. Flames in that fire were fanned by similar down-canyon winds. Just an outbuilding was lost in that blaze.


Lightning ignites fires

  The recent thunder-and-lightning activity in the nearby mountains caused a blaze that was spotted burning Sunday, Aug. 12, in Sequoia National Park. That fire was burning in a single tree and nearby vegetation at the elevation of 9,400 feet. 

  The location of the blaze is on the west slope of Alta Peak between Mehrten Meadow and Tharps Rock. Fire managers made the decision to suppress that blaze using helicopter drops due to the high level of fire activity that is occurring across the state. 

  Another lightning-caused fire in the backcountry was reported Wednesday, Aug. 15, burning on the south ridge of Dennison Peak just inside Sequoia Park’s southern boundary. Helicopter drops were also called into suppress that lightning-caused fire.


WUSD hires first superintendent


Drew Sorensen returns to Woodlake


By Holly Gallo


  Yesterday (Thursday, Aug. 16) was the first day of the 2012/2013 school year for Woodlake High School, and the dawn of the fall term brought with it a lot of new faces in the teaching and administrative faculty.

  After conducting the interview process over the summer, the Woodlake Unified School District board approved Drew Sorensen as superintendent, the first to oversee the newly unified school district.

  Sorensen graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1977 and received his master’s degree from UCLA in 1979. He received his Pupil Personnel Services credential at UCLA in 1980 and his administrative credential at Fresno State in the early ‘90s, and has been working in education for the last 32 years.

  Most of his career was spent at Visalia Unified School District as a counselor and, after 1989, as an administrator. After working as the principal of Woodlake High School from 1997 to 2001, he was named the first principal of El Diamante High School in Visalia, where he remained for the next seven years. From 2008 until Tuesday of last week, Sorensen was the regional superintendent overseeing academic, athletic, and other student services for Visalia Unified.

  Wednesday was his first official day as superintendent of Woodlake Unified School District.

  “To be unified really means that you can have a K-12 mission, vision, and goal setting,” Sorensen said. “When it’s student centered and student-achievement driven, everyone can have the same goal.”

  One of the most important goals that Sorensen has set for the district is improving academic achievement individually, “one student at a time,” as part of a long-term perspective.

  Included within that project is increasing the number of students that meet the University of California and Cal State a-g requirements (the minimum level of academic preparation students are required to achieve in high school to undertake university level work), because “when you meet those requirements, doors open and you have more flexibility to achieve the things that you want to do.”

  “An individual student knows what they want to achieve,” says Sorensen. “We want to make sure that our students that start with us stay with us; and that they stay with us because they want to stay with us.”

  “I would hope that a parent would look at that and say, anytime leading up to their graduation, ‘What is my student doing to know that they will go to the next level and they’re prepared?’” Sorensen continued. “This is no different than how I want… teachers to trust each other and to know that the students they have in their classrooms are ready to move on and are ready for that next step.”


Meet WHS’s new faculty


  Woodlake High has hired six new educators to help work toward the goals that new superintendent Drew Sorensen (see story, left) hopes to achieve and that administrators have traditionally valued highly in the district.



  Omar Garza of Clovis will be teaching physical education. Garza was credentialed and completed his undergraduate degree in kinesiology at Fresno State University. After doing his student teaching at Bullard High School, Woodlake was the only school to which Garza applied for a full-time teaching position.

  “The area drew me in,” Garza said. “It’s perfect for triathlons with its proximity to Lake Kaweah.”

  Garza plans to be involved with community events here and encourages parents to do the same. “When parents are involved, students are successful,” he said.


  Catharine Darr will be teaching the choir class this year. Darr is from Hollister and earned her credential at Chico State University.

Excited for her first year of teaching, Darr said that she “can’t wait to meet the students and start making music with them.”


  Mike Burchett, the new algebra and geometry teacher, will also be coaching the football teams and assist the wrestling team. A native of Visalia, Burchett was credentialed through Chapman University. He has been working in education for the last 10 years and spent part of that time teaching at Tulare Western High School and, more recently, as the athletic director at Lindsay High School.

  Burchett says that he looks forward to returning to the classrom to teach kids again, saying that he’s “always enjoyed working with students.”


  Celina Martinez, who grew up in Los Angeles County before moving to Visalia at the age of 19, will be teaching English this year. She received her BA in English Literature at UC Irvine after transferring there from College of the Sequoias, and then went on to earn her teaching credential and master’s degree at Whittier College in Los Angeles.

  Martinez said that the opportunities that Tulare County gave her brought her back to the area. “I really like Woodlake High School,” she said. “The staff seems to make an effort to provide a good education for the students.”

  Her main focus this year will be to target student needs and develop “classroom strategies that will help reach district goals.”


  Codee Bontrager will be joining the agricultural sciences department. This is her first full-time position after graduating and receiving her credential at Fresno State University in agricultural education. Having grown up in Oakdale, Bontrager was looking for a return to a small-town community.

  She said that her position here was “perfect” since her future husband, Derek Bontrager, recently joined the Tulare County Fire Department.

  “It’s going to be a wild and crazy ride,” Bontrager said. “And it’s going to be a lot of fun. I have high hopes for our FFA officer teams.”


  Among the recently hired is Dominique Biello. Credentialed at San Diego State University, Biello previously was a long-term substitute teacher for fifth-grade general education and  held temporary positions in special education in the San Diego area.

Biello has come to Woodlake to teach full time in the special education department, and looks forward to working in a close-knit community.

  “I wanted this job because of the sense of community and closeness that a small town brings,” Biello said.


Century 21 is now Sierra Real Estate


  With all the changes on the local business scene during the busy summer season, none eclipse the importance of the transition of David Learned’s Century 21 Three Rivers real estate company to Sierra Real Estate. That’s because Sierra Real Estate, a locally owned, full-service company based in Three Rivers, does the majority of all the real estate business in the area.

  The original Century 21 franchise, a fixture in Three Rivers for more than two decades, was started by David’s father more than two decades ago. David was raised in Three Rivers, attended Three Rivers School and Woodlake High School, and basically grew up in the local real estate business.

  David began working full time in real estate in 1993, and nearly 20 years later, is well acquainted with all the subtleties of the local market. He is an expert in all aspects of real estate, including buying, selling, financing, and property management

  In 2007, he assumed the exclusive ownership of Century 21 Three Rivers from Wayne Lentz. In the real estate business, the local Century 21 has seen good times and bad and through it all has maintained a high standard of quality service.

  “With the way the market has changed in the past few years it was obvious we needed to make a change,” Learned said. “Those national ad campaigns might work in the bigger urban markets but here we are better off focusing on the needs of the individual customer.”

  Learned has pledged that Sierra Real Estate will continue the Three Rivers tradition of positive sales and a tireless work ethic while utilizing the latest technology to get the best results for buyers and sellers.

  Visit Sierra Real Estate at 40846 Sierra Drive in Three Rivers. For local real estate information, go to www.davidlearned.com or call the office at 561-1900.




Hope Barr

1913 ~ 2012

  Hope Kime Barr died Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in Three Rivers. She was 98.

  Hope was born October 12, 1913, in Indianapolis, Ind. Her early years took her to Hartford, Conn., where her father was an actuary with Travelers Insurance Company.

  Her father’s untimely death during the 1918 flu pandemic sent her with her mother, Betty, to Illinois to be with family. Between 50 and 130 million died worldwide during this time, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

  Hope and her mother settled in Oak Park, Ill., where Hope attended high school. An excellent student, she graduated at age 16 and went on to Rockford College, where she graduated in 1933. In 1935, she met her future husband at a Chicago University Chapel young adult group. They were married in 1936.

  Frank took a job with Standard Oil New Jersey. Their first home was in Baton Rouge, La. Hope remembered with fondness, and some discomfort, the incredibly hot, humid summers.

  In 1938, the couple moved to Summit, N.J., where they remained for 31 years. While there, Hope was active in the First Baptist Church and numerous book clubs, bridge groups, and several service organizations. In addition, her three children were born and raised in Summit.  

  In 1969, as empty-nesters, Hope and Frank moved to Bellevue, Wash., where they continued to be active in church and civil affairs. After Frank retired from what was then Exxon, the couple headed south to San Diego.

  After several years in San Diego, the couple packed up and hit the road again, finally settling in for good in Three Rivers near their daughter, Jill. This is where they would live out their lives.

  Hope was a longtime member of Community Presbyterian Church and enjoyed various intellectual pursuits. She remained dynamic and lively just until a few years ago when age finally started to slow her down.

  However, according to her family, her intellect continued to be incredible and her memory of her life, recollection of historic events, and her scholarship were encyclopedic; she never ceased to amaze her family and friends.

  In 1990, Hope was preceded in death by her beloved husband of 54 years, Frank.

She is survived by her three children -— sons Mike Barr and Dave Barr and daughter Jill Thorne — and their spouses; eleven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

  A private memorial service will be planned for a later date.



THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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